Review: King Kong extended cut
Monsters belong in B movies
Upon its cinema release I thought Peter Jackson’s King Kong was fantastic piece of cinema and those impressions haven’t change much.
Despite the positive reviews during its cinema release, the film has experienced a change in opinion since – whether that was down to its long run time or audiences expecting a repeat of the success of Lord of the Rings – King Kong is a stirring piece of fantasy cinema that at times overreaches.
The plot concerns Jack Black’s Carl Denham movie producer who coerces his cast to travel to the mysterious Skull Island, where they encounter Kong, a giant ape who kidnaps leading lady Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts). It’s a simple enough premise but Jackson stretches this out to three hours it causes problems in terms of pacing and character development.
The 1933 King Kong was a shallow adventure film, with arguably insensitive portrayal of indigenous people. Ambitious in terms of its visuals and fun to watch, from a character perspective it’s very thin.
Anne Darrow isn’t so much a person as an object that screams a lot and many of the characters are portrayed in a very broad manner. Jackson and his writing team (partner Fran Walsh & Phillipa Boyen) have attempted to rectify this by giving the characters more depth. Watt’s Darrow, Black’s Denham, Adrien Brody’s Jack Driscoll have a personalities and aren’t relegated to reacting to some off-screen CGI.
Where it starts to come unstuck is with the crew of the Venture SS as we’re given more characters adding to the film’s bulk and affecting both the Anne/King Kong storyline and the Crew’s search for her at the same time without breaking up the action and creating a disjointed middle act.
The film is also swamped with set pieces, too many in fact, with some adding little to the story. This is one of the few instances where an extended edition does more harm than good.
What still astonishes is the CGI and Kong remains one of the great CGI characters of the last ten years and one of the great advantages this film has over the 1933 stop motion effort and the man in a suit from the 1976 version. The facial articulations manage to convey much about the character’s feelings.
He sulks, he laughs, he rages…every part of him feels alive. Jackson always brings the character back to its sense of loneliness. Naomi Watts is excellent, watching her you’re reminded how much a smile or a gaze can create some form of emotional connection between a character and the audience and Watts excels in providing an anchor within all the CG razzmatazz.
In some scenes the CG backgrounds feel too digital with characters never feeling as if they’re in their surroundings. It may have been deliberately, trying to evoke the backlights of 1930s films in a similar manner to Scorsese’s Shutter Island or even Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but it makes you aware of the trickery and quite frankly looks rubbish.
While there’s other aspects that are worth mentioning (King Kong against threeT-Rex’s, James Newton Howard’s fantastic score and a decent performance from Jack Black) it would take far too long to cover those points in detail. King Kong: Extended Cut is not without its problems and it’s not as good as the original version, but it’s very enjoyable, mixing old fashioned fun with some new tricks and much better than people give it credit for.